Today's Headlines and Commentary

Jordan Brunner
Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 1:43 PM

The Washington Post reports that the FBI obtained obtained a FISA warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page as part of its ongoing investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

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The Washington Post reports that the FBI obtained obtained a FISA warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page as part of its ongoing investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign. This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. It is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Page is the only U.S. person to be directly targeted with a FISA warrant over the course of the Russia investigation.

CNN tells us that both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal after a review of the intelligence reports brought to light by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes at NSA headquarters. Their assessment contradicts President Donald Trump's allegations that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice broke the law by requesting the "unmasking" of US individuals' identities.. Former NSA Director Michael Hayden adds at the Hill that Susan Rice’s request would have been “well short of a smoking gun,” and perhaps even “routine.”

The AP reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a reversal that comes after the Russian government had said no meeting was planned. Reuters writes that Putin said this morning that the levels of trust between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Putin also added that he believed there were two main explanations for the chemical weapons attack in Idlib that prompted Trump to launch airstrikes: either that Syrian government air strikes had hit rebel chemical weapons stocks, releasing poisonous gas, or that the incident was a set-up designed to discredit the Syrian government. Putin’s comments come as the U.S. has leveled its more serious charges against the Syrian and Russian governments with the declassification of a National Security Council report alleging the two had sought to float a series of “false narratives” in the aftermath of last week’s deadly sarin gas attack against Syrian civilians.

The response has affected Secretary Tillerson’s trip to Russia, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov telling Tillerson that the airstrikes launched by the United States were “unlawful,” and questioning the ambiguous and at time contradictory statements coming from the Trump administration about its Syria policy, according to USA Today. And while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that calls for Russia to distance itself from Assad are "short-sighted" and "absurd," because they disregard the need to fight terrorism and to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov added that "by and large the US Administration’s policy towards Syria remains an enigma to us.”

“We’re not going into Syria,” Trump announced this morning in an interview with Fox News, having said the same earlier in an interview with the New York Post. The president made clear that the U.S. policy has not changed. Trump’s comments echo the simple, definitive statement given by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said to reporters on Tuesday, “our military policy in Syria has not changed. Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS.”

However, the Hill tells us that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are pushing Trump to engage in “greater military action,” in Syria, including establishing safe havens for Syrian refugees. The two senators said there will never be a diplomatic solution “as long as Assad dominates the battlefield.” But key Democrats in the House want to see Trump’s Syria strategy, warning that they will withhold support for future military actions unless the administration gets Congress’s stamp of approval on the plan.

The Post informs us that Britain, France and the United States have circulated a revised U.N. draft resolution that would condemn the reported use of chemical weapons in northern Syria and demand that all parties provide speedy access to investigators to the sites. Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said that the resolution calls for those responsible for the attack to be identified and brought to justice, and said the resolution was written with the aim of getting approval from all 15 council members.

The Post also examines Trump’s “unpredictable” foreign policy, which to many allies is beginning to look less like it’s “unpredictable,” and more like “incoherence” on the part of the administration.

Politico notes that to assuage nervous European leaders and charm the American president, NATO officials have lined up a highly-choreographed Brussels meeting, and a high-stakes dress rehearsal for NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s meeting with Trump at the White House this week. Trump’s senior aides have made strong statements in support of NATO and Secretary Tillerson was applauded by the initially skeptical Europeans when he visited Brussels recently. This is in stark contrast with Trump, who famously derided NATO as “obsolete” and has repeatedly demanded that NATO members increase their contribution to the costs of the alliance.

As tension heat up around North Korea, USNI News reports that Defense Secretary Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that there was no specific reason U.S. Pacific Command elected to rearrange the schedule of the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and send it toward the Korean Peninsula. Mattis said simply that the aircraft carrier group “operates freely up and down the Pacific” and that the Carl Vinson was there because “that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time.” Nevertheless, NPR explains that North Korea is threatening "tough counteraction" as a result of the Carl Vinson being rerouted, saying that it would hold the U.S. “wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions.”

CNN tells us that German authorities suspect "terrorist involvement" in a bomb attack on the bus of the Borussia Dortmund soccer team that injured one of the team’s players. The investigation is focused on two suspects with connections to militant Islamism, with both suspects’ homes being searched and one having been detained. Three explosive devices shattered windows on the Borussia Dortmund team bus Tuesday evening as the German squad was en route to its home Champions League match against AS Monaco, which has postponed as a result of the attack.

A report by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said Members of Parliament were deeply concerned that foreign governments may have been involved in the collapse of a voter registration website in the run-up to the EU referendum, the Guardian informs us. The committee does not identify who may have been responsible, but has noted that both Russia and China use an approach to cyber-attacks based on an understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals. Ministers were forced to extend the deadline to register to vote in the E.U. referendum after the collapse of the government’s website.

FCW notes that the wait for the Trump administration's cyber executive order has many wondering just what will be in it and why it is taking so long to complete. Various drafts of the order have leaked since the initial draft was pulled at the last minute, and many in industry have had positive things to say about what they have seen in terms of holding agency heads responsible for cybersecurity and implementing the NIST framework and other recommendations from recent commissions and reports. Yet there is still no order, and the administration has not responded to multiple requests for information about its status.

The number of people who have been asked to hand over their cellphones and passwords by Customs and Border Protection agents has increased nearly threefold in recent years, and the requests are being made of American citizens as well as foreign visitors, according to NPR. The measure has been amped up as the Trump administration considers other steps to implement what the president has called extreme vetting of foreigners at the border.

USA Today writes that the federal hiring freeze imposed by President Trump in January is slated to be lifted Wednesday, but agencies will still be limited in hiring scope, according to Trump’s chief budget officer. Instead, White House officials expect agencies to staff up only in areas slated for expansion under the president’s budget proposal released last month. Other agencies, like the EPA, will be expected to downsize roughly 20 percent of its workforce.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jennifer Harris asked if it’s time for new rules regarding Chinese investment in the United States.

Shane Reeves explained the problem of morally justifying the United States Strike in Syria.

Nora Ellingsen and Lisa Daniels examined what the data really shows about the terrorists who “came here in Part I (Introductions), Part II (Country-by-Country Analysis), and Part III (Domestic Terrorism Cases) of a three-party essay.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Scott Roehm commented on the new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group’s two reports on the best practices for interrogation.

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Jordan A. Brunner is a graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and was a national security intern at the Brookings Institution. Prior to law school, he was a Research Fellow with the New America Foundation/ASU Center for the Future of War, where he researched cybersecurity, cyber war, and cyber conflict alongside Shane Harris, author of @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex. He graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Political Science.

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